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TABLE TALK

NATV brings gourmet flair to Indigenous food

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The words “Native American cuisine” usually conjure up one specific dish in the minds of Oklahomans.

“We get asked all the time, ‘Do you do Indian tacos?’” said Jacque Siegfried, chef and owner of NATV in Broken Arrow. She punctuates the sentence with a rueful laugh.

“First of all, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Indian tacos,” she said, referring to fry bread creations that have become a staple of state fair midways as well as tribal gatherings. “We’ve done them occasionally, as a special item or as part of our catering work.

“But what I want to do is show different flavor profiles that are not seen so much,” she said. “Native cuisine is the original farm-to-table cuisine, and it goes back thousands of years. I try to draw as much as I can from different traditions, to create food that honors those traditions, but that appeals to modern tastes.”

Siegfried, a member of the Shawnee Nation, said she knew as a child she wanted to be a chef. She persuaded her parents to enroll her in the culinary program at Tulsa’s Nathan Hale High School and studied at Platt College. She then set out on a career, working at such places as Montereau, Cedar Ridge Country Club, the Mayo Hotel and the Tulsa Club Hotel.

When the restaurant world was brought to a halt in 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic, Siegfried said she began to think seriously about leaving the hotel/country club world behind and going out on her own.

“My husband, Ricky, asked me, ‘What speaks to your heart?’ and I said, ‘Native American food,’” Siegfried recalled. “Three days later, he said he had found a place he wanted me to look over as a possible site for a new restaurant.”

Although Siegfried was well-versed in the ways of the kitchen, she had never run her own business before. She enrolled in the Mother Road Market’s Kitchen 66 program to get a better understanding of the business side of running a restaurant.

Siegfried said she originally thought about opening a place in the downtown Tulsa area, but the spaces she looked at were either out of her price range, or would require too much renovation to get into shape.

What sold her on the space in Broken Arrow was that it was already kitted out with such things as a large vent hood over the cooking area, and a walk-in freezer.

“A lot of the equipment we needed was already in place,” she said.

Mother Nature and the usual obstacles of licensing and other legal matters meant Siegfried’s goal of “being up and running in six months” was not going to happen. But as the restaurant was being readied, she was able to share some of her culinary ideas at the Tulsa State Fair, as well as through her catering business.

Siegfried said she gets as much of her meat and produce from Indigenous farms and growers as possible; the beef she uses, for example, comes from the Quapaw Cattle Company, which raises grass-fed, hormone-free cattle. If no Native sources are available, she said, she looks to other Oklahoma producers.

My companion and I paid a recent visit on a Tuesday night, as the city of Broken Arrow was preparing for its annual Rooster Days celebration. This made getting to the restaurant a bit of a journey, as the area of Main Street that NATV faces was already closed to traffic.

We were the only customers that evening, but it apparently had been busy through the day as two of the dishes we had hoped to try, the Seared Trout ($18) and the Sunchoke Gnocchi ($18), had already sold out.

I was able to sample the trout during the photo shoot; this is a dish that definitely will be worth a return trip. The flesh was tender and nicely seasoned, the skin had a bit of crisp to it, and the wild onion chimichurri sauce topping it was burst of herbaceous delight.

Our second choices were the Seared Duck Breast ($42), accompanied by candied dandelion greens, and the Bison Poyha ($22), essentially a meatloaf topped with a rich, tangy sauce, and served with wild rice and a fried corn medley.

Bison is a notoriously lean meat, and the majority of times I’ve had it, it has been painfully dry. But Siegfried’s preparation here resulted in a moist, extremely flavorful dish that the fruity sauce complemented well. We did encounter a small piece of bone in the slice we were served.

The corn medley melded sweet and savory flavors that worked with the relative blandness of the wild rice.

The duck breast was cooked to the proper doneness, with the flesh still tinged with a bit of pink. I would have wished the skin and its subcutaneous fat had been rendered to a more crisp state. The warm salad of dandelion greens, mixed with sauteed onions, was the real star of the plate, blending bitter greens and sweet onions in a tart, vinegary dressing.

We began the meal with the Relish Board ($11), an array of three types of salami-type sausages, with slices of pickled zucchini and yellow squash, blueberries and blackberries, with a rich local honey and a mustardy sauce.

Everything on this plate was excellent. The sausages had slightly different degrees of spiciness, the berries were bursting with sweetness and the squash slices were tart and crunchy. The rosemary pecan crackers served with this were closer to a somewhat fibrous flatbread, but they were tasty when dipped in the honey or used to tame the tang of the pickled squashes.

We shared Grape Dumplings ($8) for dessert, thick doughy noodles doused in a tart grape sauce and topped with whipped cream. Siegfried acknowledged that some are a bit put off by the texture, but there was no denying that the taste was intriguing, and not overly sweet.

NATV offers several vegetarian dishes, such as the Vegan Succotash ($11) and the Three Sisters Stew ($6), made with corn, beans and whatever squash is in season, and served with fry bread (proteins can be added for those who wish).

“We also use a lot of nut flours, like the pecan flour we use for the gnocchi, and wild rice, which means a lot of our food is also gluten-free,” Siegfried said.

Siegfried said she will be launching a summer menu soon, adding that items such as the trout, the Pork Belly Succotash and the Three Sisters Stew will remain available, although the ingredients will reflect what is seasonal, as in the types of squash used in the stew.

“In everything we do,” she said, “we’re just trying to show off the true, natural flavors of the food we serve.”

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